President Zelensky enacted the decree of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDCU) about sanctions against Dmytro Firtash and his company “Valky-Ilmenite” extracting the ore in Zhytomyr oblast on June 25, 2021. The NSDCU argued that Mr. Firtash and his business supplied titanium products to the Russian military industry.
However, the severity of sanctions is dubious. The NSDCU decree cancelled the special permission of “Valky-Ilmenite” to use the Stremygorodske ore field and transferred it to the state owned UMCC. The privatization of the UMCC is scheduled for this year.
But the Stremygorodske ore field is not yet developed. Though sanctions were introduced against “Valky-Ilmenite”, the company still possesses the special permission to use “Valky-Gatskivske” ore field. The company of Mr.Firtash has seven land plots there, with total area of 439 hectares. The Center for Journalist Investigations described this situation in the article “Immortal ilmenite scheme of Mr. Firtash”.
Another company of Mr. Firtash – “Mezhyrichensky Mining and Concentrating Plant” registered in Irshansk was not sanctioned by the NSDCU. It possesses the special permission to extract ilmenite at Mezhyrichne ore field (total area is 492 ha) located between Isakivka and Yemylivka villages.
The Ukrainian ilmenite concentrate from which titanium dioxide is produced in Crimea can be bought from the UMCC. The Irshansk Mining and Processing Plant, the branch of the UMCC, enriches the ore extracted in Zhytomyr oblast. Since November 2020, Czech company “Belanto Trade” has been among buyers of the UMCC products.
Belanto Trade: media accusations and position of the company
Belanto Trade was registered in Prague on February 25, 2014. Iveta Shylganova is indicated as the company founder and director. The company authorized capital is 120 Czech crowns (i.e. 142 UAH). The company specializes in the sale of the raw material for its further processing.
In November 2020, Censor.net media reported that the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) demanded the UMCC management stop loading products within the contract with Belanto Trade. The SSU argued that the ilmenite ore concentrate produced by the Irshansk Plant and bought by Belanto Trade in October 2020 was unloaded in the port of occupied Feodosia. Artur Somov, then acting head of the UMCC, ignored claims of the SSU.
“Bagnet” media reported that UMCC loaded the ilmenite ore concentrate to occupied Crimea through Belanto Trade in April-May 2021. The ilmenite was brought to Med railway station in Belgorod, Russia, then transported to Kavkaz port and finally – to occupied Crimea. The transshipment of ilmenite in “Yuzhny Sea Trade Terminal” of Kavkaz port was video recorded on April 14.
The Center for Journalist Investigations received data from the US database ImportGenius collecting information about sea export-import cargo transportation. UMCC shipped more than 78 thousand tons of the ilmenite ore concentrate to the Czech company within eleven shipments from November 11, 2020 to March 31, 2021. In accordance with customs documents, all shipments went to Turkey. It is the most popular route of the “ilmenite scheme”.
Belanto Trade site published the statement on June 13, 2021 that media information about its participation in the supply of ilmenite to Crimea is the defamation campaign launched by Mr. Firtash.
“Motivation is to remove a competitor that is obtaining a greater market share in the ilmenite market. The more ilmenite Belanto ships to legitimate customers the less is available for Firtash’s Crimean Titan processing plant”, as said in the company’s statement.
Belanto Trade called the press conference in Kyiv on October 21, one week before the auction to privatize the UMCC. Company managers stated that the UMCC sold the ilmenite below its market value to some counterparties whereas Belanto Trade working transparently was pushed out of the market. Czech businessmen denied any connections with oligarch Firtash as well as any shipments of ilmenite to Crimea.
As Marek Shpok, the director for development of Belanto Trade s.r.o. said, “Belanto Trade” did not, does not and will not work with companies around Mr.Firtash”.
Miroslav Shylgan, the general director of Belanto Trade s.r.o., insisted at the press conference: “We require that our contractor does not have the right to sell goods to any company on the territory of Crimea. It is part of the contract. We can say that 80% of our clients are those to whom we regularly sell ilmenite. We know precisely the final destination of the product”.
Mr. Shylgan answered negatively our question about whether Belanto broke a contract with any counterparty for making shipments to Crimea. Then, we asked the company director to name its respectable clients. He advised us to contact the company lawyer.
Oleksandr Bezzubets, the company lawyer, did not refuse to give us relevant information but he failed to. He told us he caught covid-19 and would be able to send information no sooner than after two weeks. Our further attempts to contact Miroslav Shylgan were futile.
Upon our request, Maksym Andruschenko, the political scientist and moderator of the press conference, sent us documents about one counterparty of Belanto Trade to whom the company sold Irshansk ilmenite. It is Russian LLC “Avisma-Spetsremont”, the subsidiary of JSC VSMPO-Avisma Corporation. The corporation supplies titanium to Boeing and Airbus.
The corporation and its managers have been under NSDCU sanctions since June 2021. However, neither Ukrainian nor Western sanctions cover “Avisma-Spetsremont”.
We did not receive any information about other counterparties of Belanto Trade. Thus, statements of Mr. Shylgan are not supported by reliable facts or documents.
Luckily, the open data allows tracking the movement of the Ukrainian ilmenite to Crimea even without the assistance of Belanto Trade top managers.
Routes of ilmenite supplies
The contract between UMCC and Belanto Trade for the acquisition of 50 thousand tons of ilmenite concentrate was signed on October 13, 2020. The ImportGenius database demonstrates that there were six export shipments of UMCC products in December 2020 – to Cyprus, Turkey and the Russian Federation. The shipment of almost 11.5 thousand tons bought by Belanto Trade was destined to Turkey.
Odessa mass media informed on December 12, 2020 that ore carrier “Bogdan” departed from Choprnomorsk port with 11.5 thousand tons of ilmenite ore. The ship is owned by Bulgarian company AURORA SHIPPING LTD and has the flag of Belize.
Kateryna Yaresko, expert of SeaKrime project, has investigated the “ilmenite scheme” for many years. She says that “Bogdan” did not reach Turkey. The captain of the ore carrier suddenly changed the destination port to Varna in Bulgaria:
“We knew that the ship was loaded with ilmenite. That is why we monitored it. The ilmenite was unloaded at the pier and then the ship came back to Chornomorsk – to load the second part. Ilmenite transported by “Bogdan” to Varna was taken by “Souria” ship. We regularly track this ship because it is one of a few ships still entering Crimean ports. It is a Syrian ship, it is under US sanctions”.
Souria anchored in international waters of the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait (this location is known under pirate name Tortuga) until “Bogdan” returned with the second cargo of ilmenite.
Then, Souria appeared near Sevastopol port on December 23, 2020.
Here is another example. Yunus Emre ship under the flag of Panama departed from Chornomorsk port to Turkey on February 27, 2021. Its cargo was 11,801 thousand tons of ilmenite. It precisely coincides with the weight of cargo loaded by UMCC to Belanto Trade.
Kateryna Yaresko comments on its route: “The ship left the port and indicated Turkish port Samsun as its destination. Then, it changed its course and went to Bosporus. Finally, we found it near the Egyptian port Damietta”.
The Syrian ship “Laodicea” was also identified near the Egyptian seashore on March 6, 2021.The ship is under US sanctions. Yunus Emre and Laodicea stayed together near the pier of Damietta port.
Kateryna Yaresko continues the story: “Then Yunus Emre left the port and informed that it did not have cargo. That is to say, the ilmenite was unloaded. After that Laodicea left the port and informed that it had the cargo. We have data from the Egyptian port confirming that Laodicea was loaded with ilmenite. We also have information that this ilmenite was delivered to Sevastopol, to the pier of stevedore company “Avlita”.
Cases identified by journalists indicate one of possible ways to supply the Ukrainian ilmenite to the Armyansk branch of “Ukrainian Chemical Products” company. It seems that Belanto Trade played the role of intermediary between Irshansk Mining and Processing Plant and UMCC, on the one side, and the titanium plant of Mr. Firtash in Crimea, on the other side. This chain lacks one link – we do not know counterparties of “transparent European company” from the Czech Republic, which delivered cargo to Crimea. Despite promises of Miroslav Shylgan, the general director of Belanto, representatives of the company did not disclose documents about supply of the Ukrainian ilmenite to European manufacturers of titanium products.
UMCC also ignored the request of the Center for Journalist Investigations to provide comments about accusations put forward by Belanto Trade. The management of the Czech company declared its intent to participate in the privatization auction. It is unknown whether they submitted their bid.